Intern Post, Erin Regan: AWP Round Two: Like Coming Home

A few weeks ago, I packed a suitcase with extra room for books and literary paraphernalia and boarded a plane for blustery Minneapolis. It was my first time in the city and my second time at the annual AWP Conference. (You can read all about my inaugural trip here.)

Attending AWP last year gave me such an incredible boost of enthusiasm and motivation. I went home with a backpack full of journals, business cards, and call-for-submissions fliers. I was ready to really commit to being a writer, and to my own happy surprise, I have submitted a few pieces to various literary journals – all without success. That’s why this year, I attended a few panels about how to cope with rejection!rejected-1238221

This time, I not only entered the conference with a more personal knowledge of the reality of rejection but with a greater understanding of the madness I was descending on. As I boarded the plane to Seattle for the conference last year, I imagined the looks I would get when I told people that I hadn’t been published yet or that I was only getting my bachelor’s degree in literature. I expected everyone in attendance to have already written their first novel. Now I know that is wholly not the case.

Of course you do run into some profoundly successfully writers, and it’s such a joy to see them and hear them speak. (This year, I chatted with Ron Carlson and was able to attend panels with Stuart Dybek and T.C. Boyle.) But the AWP conference is also full of students and new writers who are trying to break into the world of literary publishing through small journals and publishing houses. It’s incredible to be in the company of thousands of aspiring and inspiring writers and editors. This year, walking into the book fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center felt just a little bit like coming home.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my first two AWP experiences:

Offsite events are the best. This year, Superstition Review co-hosted a reading with Blue Mesa Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review at The Nicollet, a lovely little coffee shop. I also attended Literary Death Match and a poetry reading in a supposedly haunted German hotel.

Missing the keynote is part of the AWP experience, especially after your first year. Admittedly, I was pretty disappointed to miss Karen Russell, but I was enjoying a really tasty bowl of pasta at the time, so I can’t complain too much.

It feels great to represent a magazine. Having Superstition Review printed on my badge did wonders for my confidence, and meeting past contributors as they stop by the table is pretty exciting. Plus, table 318 was my little haven in the swarming book fair.

Go outside. It’s easy to forget that there’s a world outside the convention center, so when you get a chance, go for a little walk; grab a bite to eat that isn’t a personal pizza or boxed salad.

The book fair is where it’s at. The panels are great, but there are so many people to talk with and new publications and presses to meet. Plus, you can get some amazing reading material and literary loot.

See you in Los Angeles at #AWP16!

Community Poetry Night at Combs HS

A group of S[R] interns and poets were invited back to Combs High School in April to be the featured readers at the school’s community poetry night.

I accompanied our readers as a supportive but silent audience member, and truly, pulling up to the school, we didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been to a few poetry slams and an equal number of solo, scheduled readings in bookstores, but I’d never attended an event like this at my own, or any other, high school. As we approached the gymnasium doors, before we even had time to introduce ourselves, a student was greeting us, pulling us into the building and thanking us for being their special guests.

The room was decorated with shawls and paper flower in a bohemian style; some students wore shawls around their waists or macrame vests in keeping with the decor. Students and guests could grab a plate of fruit, chocolate and cheese and crackers or visit the tarot reading “tent” staged in the corner before finding a seat. We found a table set with a vase and a flower hand cut from newsprint. Every detail was lovingly done by the students in Ms. Burnquist’s senior creative writing class. Along the walls and windows were printed photos of each of these students’ faces, and right above where we were sitting, sipping our lemonade, was a photo of the S[R] group during our last visit to Combs.

The evening began with an open mic portion during which Combs students not in the creative writing class read their poems or performed music. Some were quiet and hurried, but they were followed with the loud encouragements of their classmates. Ms. Burnquist emceed the rest of the evening and took the stage to read one of her own poems, “Reflections of a Teacher.”

Eleven of her students followed her. They read work about heartbreak and aging and moving on. One student read a poem for her classmate, who couldn’t face the crowd, and each poet stepped off the stage to great applause and the occasionally shouted inside joke. Our readers – former poetry editor Abner Porzio and current poetry editors Skyler LaLone and Elizabeth Hansen – concluded the event, representing the world of poetry that exists beyond high school.

It seemed the evening was the students’ own sort of graduation from the creative writing program at Combs, a celebration of all they’ve discovered about themselves and about poetry in the last three years. As Ms. Burnquist said in her opening poem, “This classroom isn’t a step before you begin, you’ve already begun.” We’re so grateful to have been a part of this event and the past two years.

Combs High School Collaboration

On March 21, a group of S[R] interns visited the students in Mrs. Burnquist’s senior creative writing class at Combs High School to lead a workshop with some of San Tan Valley’s most accomplished and ambitious 18-year-olds. This was the fourth in a series of collaborations with Combs that began in the fall of 2012.

The students prepared 100-word stories prior to our visit, inspired by this website 100 Word Story. They had copies of their stories in hand. As I went over the workshop plans in the days before, I built up a small arsenal of tools and techniques to get the discussion going. I expected to be pulling comments out of a reticent group, but they seemed more comfortable with the workshop structure than I was.

After initial instructions to my small group of six students, I confessed that I was a bit of a fraud and had never even been in a writing workshop myself. One of the students turned to me and said, “Well, you’re doing just fine.” From that moment on, I was able to abandon all anxieties and simply enjoy the freshness they brought to our workshop. I was impressed with the level of engagement with their 100-word assignment. Each of the six students I worked with brought a deeply original story to the classroom and offered kind words and gentle criticism to their classmates.

Our discussion ranged from story conflict to that weekend’s prom to our career paths. Although no one in my group planned to major in creative writing in college, they each possessed an enthusiasm for writing that I sometimes find missing in my collegiate English classes. “What do you like to read?” they asked me, spiraling into a discussion of their favorite books. “What do you like to write most – fiction or poetry?” “What’s your writing routine?” We had a spare twenty minutes at the end of the class period to answer some of these questions as a group, though I think some of them still left with new questions.

These students, when they aren’t reading or crafting their own stories and poems, create the school’s online literary magazine, IMPRINT. You can view their latest contrast-themed issue here. During our visit to the school last semester, we discussed the importance of social media in developing an online presence. Since then, the students launched a website and have been developing a whole social media presence with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Before we left the classroom, Jess Burnquist pulled us aside and told us that her single creative writing class is expanding into two next year because of the growing interest in the class material and the production of IMPRINT. This is truly an inspiring development, one that demonstrates the power of passionate teachers and ambitious, creative students.

Our partnership with Combs High School is also expanding this semester as S[R] will be participating in their Community Poetry Night on April 26. We’re looking forward to celebrating the voices of Combs that night, and we’ll be watching for the brilliant work they produce individually and at IMPRINT for years to come.

#AWP14 Recap

#AWP14

Representing Superstition Review: Trish Murphy, Beth Sheets, Erin Regan, Sydni Budelier, (not pictured: Mark Haunschild and Elizabeth Hansen)

I’ve been back in Arizona for a solid 24 hours and have had time to defrost and debrief on my time at the 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle. I have been reflecting on my experiences as an AWP novice and wanted to share my thoughts. Plus, spending three days with poets and writers really makes you want to scribble something down.

 When I boarded the flight to Seattle last week, I was a bag of nerves. Why was I so unprepared? How was I going to speak coherently to the brilliant minds I was about to meet? What’s my name again? I settled in my seat, repeating “Erin Regan – I’m just an undergraduate” in my head, when I realized that I was sitting next to Benjamin Saenz, an author whose work I was introduced to last year in a Chicano literature class. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t say anything, so I introduced myself and complimented his work. We ended up chatting for the rest of the flight – him sharing stories about selling his mother’s homemade burritos for cigarettes as a child and offering me advice for the conference/life, me laughing and nodding and trying to take everything in. By the time he was suggesting I nurse my cold with a cocktail of bourbon and honey and texting Sherman Alexie, my nerves were abandoned.

Since that flight, I had the opportunity to be in the same room as some of my other favorite writers, people I’ve been reading for years like Sherman Alexie, Chuck Palahnuik, Ursula Le Guin, and Gary Snyder. Yes, some of those rooms were pretty big, but that’s okay. It was magical to hear them read from their work and speak about their experiences, but even more inspiring was being in the company of thousands of writers practicing their craft with such love.

As a literature and journalism major, and an undergraduate no less, I felt a bit on the outside this weekend. I’m a stranger to the workshop process and I’m not sure where/when/if I’m getting my MFA. When people asked me what I write, I had a hard time giving them a straight answer, stumbling over my words until landing on “I try to write fiction.” On Saturday, the final day of the conference, I offered this answer to a man behind his table at the book fair. He gave me a look and asked what that meant. Flustered and inarticulate as I was at this point (come on, it was the third day of this), I shrugged. He asked me if I liked to write, and when I said yes, he said, “I dub you a fiction writer.” I will continue to write and will begin to submit my work to literary journals, but regardless of whether or I get published, this weekend has made me a much more devoted reader and supporter of the literary community. This weekend, I realized that I am a writer among writers, a member of a community that is thriving.

On Friday, I was able to witness just how strong and spirited that community is during what is becoming an infamous moment in AWP history. Past Student Editor-in-Chief Sydni Budelier and I were sitting in the aisle of a packed room for a panel titled “Magic and the Intellect.” Lucy Corin was reading an excerpt from her novel-in-progress The Swank Hotel. The piece was rich with dark and disturbing images, a stream of dead baby jokes that showed us something powerful about the nature of humanity and pain. You can read a thoughtful summary of the panel by Naomi Williams here. In the middle of Corin’s reading, a voice from the back of the room, obviously offended, interrupted her and began a rant that accused Corin of “traumatizing” her audience. While the outburst was shocking, the support for Corin in response was truly stunning. People urged her to finish the excerpt, take her time, and someone even shouted “start over!” I, and many others, had tears in our eyes as a quaking-voiced Corin finished her reading to fierce applause.

This, I believe, is what we were celebrating at the AWP Conference: the communality of writers supporting other writers, creators praising and inspiring other creators. I’m thrilled to have been able to meet so many of our own brilliant contributors at the book fair as well – thank you to everyone who stopped by our table to say hello. I’m honored to share a community with all of you.

#AWP14 is Here

Right now I’m on my way to Seattle for the annual AWP conference and bookfair, joining thousands of aspiring and inspiring writers. For me, the past two days have been consumed with packing, reviewing my schedule, making various lists, feeling really confident about my abilities as a writer/reader/social human being, and feeling really insecure about my abilities as a writer/reader/social human being. It doesn’t help that I’ve been battling a murderous cold, but at some point, it’s just time to board the plane and put on your lanyard.

AWP-logo

Despite my suffering health, I am really stoked to be in the company of so many of my favorite writers. Hopefully I’ll get to chat with some of them when I’m working the Superstition Review table C40 at the book fair. Our team of six includes founder Trish Murphy; poetry advisor Mark Haunschild; and interns Erin Regan, Sydni Budelier, Beth Sheets, and Elizabeth Hansen. We’ll be taking shifts to man the table, where we are giving away some cool S[R] gear, so be sure to stop by.

Thanks to the handy Everypost app, we’ll also be live-reporting to all six of our social networks during the conference. We’ve already been highlighting some of our past contributors who will be appearing in panels and readings with our #sralum campaign and will continue to seek out those familiar faces. Plus, there will be six of us on the ground with our ears perked for insightful quotes and amusing remarks. I’m particularly looking forward to the #overheardatAWP updates. There will no doubt be some gems under that hashtag.

Find us here:

Facebook: http://facebook.com/superstitionreview

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+SuperstitionReview

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/superstition-review

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/superstitionrev

Tumblr: http://superstitionrev.tumblr.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuperstitionRev

What’s open on my computer right now:

Our founder Trish Murphy’s blog post is an excellent resource for newcomers or AWP veterans. She’s celebrating her 20th anniversary with AWP this year and has some seasoned advice on “top ten good AWP habits.”

This advice post by #sralum Kelli Russell Agodon is so calming and reassuring. Admittedly, I go to this page every few hours for comfort and strength.

I’m loving this tweet cheat sheet. As a somewhat inexperienced tweeter, I’m definitely keeping it on hand this weekend.

Plus, have you seen this #AWP14 bingo card by #sralum Daniel Nester? It’s definitely worth a look and a laugh.

That’s it for now.

Looking forward to seeing you in Seattle and on our networks!

Getting Ready for @AWP2014

AWP BookfairIn a few weeks, thousands of writers and editors will flock to Seattle for the annual AWP conference, and for the first time, I’ll be among them. As a newcomer, I’m overwhelmed by the thought of more than 12,000 writers rubbing shoulders at a massive bookfair and cutting loose at a nightly dance party. (AWP veterans and bloggers have already warned me about the dizzying amount of stargazing, badge-scoping, and bright tights I’ll see.) In addition to emotionally readying myself for the apparent madness that is AWP, I’ve been making these preparations.

1. Planning my schedule

I love how easy it is to create a schedule on the AWP website. It was so user-friendly and easy, in fact, that I just kept adding. The next step was narrowing down my selections from four or five panels per session to one or two. After spending a few hours staring at “delete from my schedule” buttons and agonizing over which panel to choose, I realized that once I get to Seattle, my meticulous schedule might be for naught. For now, it’s a helpful way to see who will be presenting, decide who I absolutely must see, and envision how I’ll spend the conference. And my conclusion? It looks like I’ll be running from one panel to the next

2. Doing my research

I realize that it’s impossible to research everyone on every panel I’m attending. However, I am trying to do some preliminary research so that if someone asks me whose panel I’m seeing next or what I thought of Richard Nash’s discussion on small press readership, I’ll have something to say. I’m also trying to bulk up on Superstition Review material, as I’ll be manning our table at the bookfair for an hour each day. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of past contributors there as well, and I’m hoping to be able to pick some out of the swarming crowd of writers.

3. Getting my social-networking feet wet

The S[R] team will be doing a lot of live reporting from the conference, which means learning the art of tweeting on-the-go. I’m not very Twitter savvy, but thankfully we have a few social-networking wizards representing the magazine this year – I hope to pick up a few things from them before the conference begins. We’ll be using an app called Everypost this year, which allows us to post content to all of our social networks at once. This will make live tweeting from panels and readings so much faster, though I’m sure we’ll still be seen occasionally hunched over our phones, trying to type a fantastic quote. We’re also hosting a few contests over social networks with daily prizes at stake, so be sure to stop by #TableC40. Of course, we’ll be on the lookout for #SRalum and continuing the ever-entertaining #overheardatAWP.

4. Finding eateries near the conference

I’ve heard about AWP’s classic $16 water bottles, so I’m not planning to buy much food onsite. At the same time, I don’t want to spend hours away from the conference in search of a decent restaurant or grocery store. Luckily, there’s a Trader Joe’s about a mile from the conference hotel and a host of good restaurants downtown. To save on time and money, I’m planning to stock up on snacks that I can break out in between sessions. I also know that I will need to escape the madness of the convention center at some point. Might as well leave to find food! Being in downtown Seattle, it will be really tempting to visit Pike Place Market. I could spend the entire afternoon at the market though, so if I venture there, I’ll have to do so with a purpose (i.e. Beecher’s cheese and Le Panier’s croissants).

5. Setting a budget

I am planning to spend some money at the bookfair – I know I won’t be able to resist buying a few books and signing up for the occasional subscription. And I want to. We are at AWP because we understand the love and devotion that goes into literary publishing and want to support each other’s craft. However, I am a poor, starving college student. Ok, maybe not quite starving, but I might be after I spend all my money on croissants and literary magazines in Seattle.

We’ll be lighting up all our social networks while at the conference, and I will be back with two more blog posts – one while in the trenches and another after we return to Arizona to see how effective all of these well-intentioned preparations were. See you at AWP! And on our networks:

                  

Guest Post, Erin Regan: Edgar Cardenas Interview: One Hundred Little Dramas

Edgar CardenasInterview Editor Erin Regan recently had the opportunity to interview Edgar Cardenas, a photographer and Ph.D. candidate in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University who integrates art and science in his work. His photography, taken from a collection titled “One Hundred Little Dramas,” which explores his own backyard as a natural place, was published in the 12th issue of Superstition Review.

Erin Regan: On your website you included a statement about the project that’s peppered with quotes by Aldo Leopold. What has your relationship with Leopold’s work been like?

Edgar Cardenas: I grew up close to Madison, Wisconsin but I didn’t know who Leopold was until I started my Ph.D. in Sustainability. I started, like most do, with Sand County Almanac which struck home. I related to his musings of being out in the woods and close to farm life.

In Sand County Almanac, Leopold makes clear his intent to integrate aesthetics, ethics, and ecology; I had and continue to have similar sentiments regarding the integration of art and sustainability science. I think he was using the terminology of ecology but his interest was the overall health of the community, which included humans. Many would identify his sentiment with a “strong sustainability,” one focused on ecological integrity that places humans in the system, not above it.

This initial introduction to his work led me to read more of his essays and biographies as well. He was a pragmatist, his attempt to unite aesthetics, ethics, and ecology were based on an understanding that holism is the way forward. He pushed against the reductionist methods of understanding the world and realized they were insufficient for understanding, not only the ecological system but our place in that system. He also pushed against preservationist or conservationist ideologies, there was nature to be found just as easily in the city as there was in the wilderness, it was a matter of looking curiously at the world and understanding how things connected to each other.

His essays weren’t the impetus for beginning the backyard project but they definitely kept me company as the project unfolded. They became ways of understanding and exploring the backyard. I would, often times, say to myself, “If Leopold was in my backyard what would he say? What questions would he ask? What would excite him? What might confuse him?” Sometimes I would make changes to the backyard or begin to get a little controlling about how I wanted things. Playing out his presence in the space helped reset my intentions and I could go back to openly observing and discovering. This openness to discovery was critical because the backyard is a small space, I worked on it for 3+ years, so you have to find new ways to look at it continuously. Leopold was one of the influences in exploring and eventually framing what the edited work would look like.

ER: I love how your work reclaims backyards as wild spaces. Would you describe the process of discovering your own backyard as a wild place?

EC: As my artist statement mentions, my backyard was a very undesirable space. Growing up in the midwest and then moving to the northeast, I was unfamiliar with the desert’s ecological pulses. The backyard looked dead when I left for a 10-day project in the Czech Republic. It rained practically the entire time I was away, so I returned to a very different, and green, backyard. The realization that the desert was alive, just waiting for water, started me photographing. I wanted the starting point to also have an ecological connection.

I was also grappling with what sustainability meant at the time. We often think about sustainability in a large and abstracted human-environment interaction manner and in a simple, “we should recycle and compost” manner. I was interested in the inbetween space, what “personal sustainability” looked like and what it meant to be engaged in it, not just studying it; the backyard felt like a good start.

I was also interested in what someone with very little money could do; most of our current sustainability solutions seem to require significant capital investment. I collected wood that was thrown out to build my planter boxes. I also collected food waste from the School of Sustainability and sustainability students to keep my compost going. Tree services would drop off chipped wood in the frontyard and I would take it to the back one wheelbarrow at a time. I would dig up seedlings in the frontyard and replant them in the back. I collected seeds from several places for planting in the backyard as well. My intention was not to restore the backyard to some previous desert site but be ecologically minded in its design. Humans and animals engineer the environment regularly so I was aware that I wasn’t returning it to a former “wild space.” I was becoming mindful of how I would use the space. That meant compost for nutrient-cycling, planter boxes for food, as well as drought-tolerant trees and plants that provided food, shelter, and a habitat for the small critters that shared the space with us. I wanted to bring the biological diversity up to a maintainable level, which also meant being mindful of the water usage, and nutrients. By the end, I was supplementing the plants exclusively off the compost I was making.

That process really got the “discovering” going; I learned a great deal about my relationship to the space as I worked in it and changed it. The process really became a ritual of stepping out into the backyard with the camera and looking, exploring, and engaging. The most important realization, to me, was that personal experience connects you to the land. I was learning to see ecological principles at play, but I was also growing to care about the ecological health of the space, from the compost, to the insects, to the lizards, to the birds; they mattered to me.

ER: Animals and insects are very much present but sometimes hidden in your photos, which seems to mirror our relationship with animals. What was it like searching for those creatures in your yard? Did invisible things become visible to you in the process?

EC: I think the natural assumption for most people is that not much is going on in the backyard. I was fascinated by the fact that the more time I spent in the space the more I saw; it wasn’t just things, it was processes as well. I knew when the house sparrows were mating and when to be looking out for fallen nestlings; we took several to a bird rescue. I knew where lizards were laying eggs in the yard and would be conscious to stay clear of the space so that I didn’t step on their eggs.

My “seeing” developed, I learned what to look for. Often times I was on my hands and knees looking or standing in my plants. I would go out at different times of day, so much happens just before the sun rises, so often times I would be outside waiting in the dark so as not to miss anything. To me the whole thing is resonant in the quote by Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” I had to learn to see in new ways. That has transferred to how I see the desert when I go out too.

ER: In addition to being a photographer, you are earning your PhD in sustainability. Would you explain how these pursuits intersect in your life and work?

EC: I find that the separating of the arts and sciences has done both of them a disservice. They are both fantastic and divergent ways of knowing the world. When I began the program my intention was to find ways to unite the two. I wanted to bridge the knowledge that is acquired in the sciences with the humanistic interrogations the arts bring to the dilemmas sustainability discourse is engaged in. In many ways, I’m picking up Leopold’s challenge to integrate ecology, ethics, and aesthetics for a holism that is necessary in sustainability. That holism needs rigor though. Herbert Simon states, “If we are to learn our social science from novelists, then the novelists have to get it right. The scientific content must be valid.” We are now in a space where, not only does the science need to be valid, the art must be salient as well. I take both endeavours seriously. For me, art and science are a discourse; my scientific learning helps push my art forward, usually by introducing new questions that I have to grapple with. Then I will make art and that process helps me reflect on the scientific questions I’m asking and how I feel about those questions. I can’t see myself doing one without the other; it would stunt my intellectual growth and creativity.

ER: Since completing “One Hundred Little Dramas,” what does your personal brand of sustainability look like?

EC: It has further grounded me in some of the ideas I had regarding sustainability. I find ecological literacy to be a critical component of understanding how we are in the world. I often felt that I had to somehow prove that art belonged in sustainability discourse. I think I’m beyond having to prove it. Now I am working towards what to interrogate with this way of knowing; it’s so powerful and underutilized right now.  One of the big pushes for the project was exploring what an “ethic” looked like. This isn’t about judging people and classifying their actions as sustainable or unsustainable, but of understanding how an ethic develops. Leopold’s work resonates in a significant way for me. Through an ecological and aesthetic development of the backyard project I simultaneously began to understand how and why I cared about a space like the backyard. We go out to the wilderness to see nature and vistas, but the most intimate natural experience I found was the one in my backyard.

The most significant change however was understanding the importance of empathy. We speak a lot about human/environment interactions in sustainability but not about human/environment relationships. I think our relationship, how we care about the world is critical. I also feel we shy away from this idea because it sounds so unscientific and subjective; it’s hard to scale up empathy in a systematically controlled fashion. Nonetheless, if we are to be sustainable we actually have to care about a place. We need to have an intimate relationship with that place, get to know it like you would a friend. That means you can visit it regularly, see it change, know its hidden secrets. You can’t do this with vacation places but backyards are wonderful for this; you take care of them and they take care of you. There was a sense of loss when I moved. I think that’s a very powerful motivator for being more sustainable, having an emotional connection to a natural place.